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Game release & myth busters

October 11, 2021
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SEPARATING STEAM FACT FROM FICTION There is a strong belief among game developers that integrating into the Steam algorithm is the only way to ensure successful game sales and a large, continuous revenue stream. To that end, developers are ready to do almost anything to push their game onto the top of Steam’s lists, like “Top Sellers,” “Featured & Recommended,” and so on. They assume that getting on a mythical “most wanted” list within Steam is the key to a successful start. This belief creates anxiety that if a game isn’t seen, wishlisted, or doesn’t make it into any rating on Steam, it’s doomed to poor sales. That fear further leads developers to completely ignore all the marketing activities they can do — independent of the Steam platform — to spark interest in their game. Therefore, most studios never even use one of the most valuable tools in their marketing arsenal: pre-orders. In reality, when you launch pre-order campaigns for your Steam activations, you can drive the actual sales, build an engaged community, and launch an effective advertising campaign. Combine those external online campaigns with Steam’s algorithm and Wishlists can greatly increase a game’s sales at release and beyond. THREE STEAM SALES MYTHS Let’s take a closer look at three Steam myths and how pre-orders plus community activity (outside of Steam) can positively drive sales. Myth #1: Getting into Steam Wishlists and receiving “most wanted” ratings ensures successful game sales kickoff. According to official Steam statistics, only 7.3% of users who added a game to their Steam Wishlist in 2020 bought it in the first week after release. Two important facts about this statistic:
  1. The statistic is an average that also includes AAA projects. AAA titles always have higher sales at the start, usually because of existing community awareness and engagement outside of Steam.
  2. The quality of a Wishlist depends on its term. Games on Steam Wishlists for more than a year rarely convert into sales upon release due to changing customer needs, trends, and many other factors.
The net result for indie developers is that Steam Wishlists’ actual conversion to purchase at release is closer to 1-3%. Further, if you plan to release your game more than a year from its initial announcement, then the most effective way to garner sales would be with pre-orders, which is something Steam does not typically offer. Additionally, aside from revealing how many Steam users added your game to their Wishlist, the Steam platform is a bit light on statistics reporting. Steam does not provide location details, demographic characteristics, audience preferences, or other useful customer marketing data to build an effective campaign and increase your sales. Direct sales through your website allow you to collect valuable information about your audience you can use immediately to benefit your players and your business. Your own site and integrated store also empowers you to create a hub for your player community, which helps increase your game’s popularity and long-term success. Myth #2: Steam Wishlists’ high conversion rates = $$$ Many developers think that if their advertising efforts yield a high conversion to Steam Wishlists, they automatically result in a high conversion to game purchases. However, it’s important to remember that users do not spend real-world money to add the game to their Wishlist. Zero dollars out of pocket is the very reason for high conversion rates and quantity of user Wishlists for any given game. Actual game sales are highly dependent on pricing, reviews, previews, streams, and other factors. A more reasonable assumption is that pre-orders are likely responsible for the real conversion to sales at launch. Pairing a pre-order campaign with the momentum from Wishlists like “Top,” “Popular,” or “Upcoming” is a savvy way to work with Steam’s algorithm. Hell Let Loose is a hardcore World War II first-person shooter released in 2019 that cleverly balanced sales between Steam and Xsolla-powered landing pages. How did they do it?
  • The developer drove paid traffic to the landing page they created with Xsolla Site Builder and collected pre-orders.
  • One month before the release, they switched paid traffic to their Steam store page, which got the game into the “Popular Upcoming” list.
  • Immediately following their release, the game went onto the “New and Trending” list.
  • One month after the release, the game fell off the Steam charts, so the developer transferred paid traffic back to their landing page and continued selling their game, enjoying lower platform fees.
It’s an approach that works. We further recommend you implement an “Add to Wishlist” button directly on your landing page a couple of months before release. Some of your site visitors will convert to Wishlist tallies, including individuals who have already pre-ordered, to keep up-to-date with news and the game’s actual release date. Myth 3. Pre-orders reduce the number of Steam Wishlists and subsequent sales on the platform. Pre-orders, Steam Wishlists, and sales are not mutually exclusive. Precedent reveals that pre-orders have a positive impact on both Wishlists and Steam sales. For example, when a developer beta tests a game among users who pre-ordered, it drives community interest, boosting pre-orders and Wishlist numbers. We can directly point to a recent experience that perfectly showcases how general community chatter, influencers, and gaming media heavily influence Steam ratings and conversion rates, even if the title has been out for a few years. At launch, the game Among Us relied heavily on Wishlists, but the number of downloads and sales remained low. The developers determined the project was complete and began developing their next game. The situation changed almost immediately when a famous streamer found the game and broadcast its gameplay – two years after its release!  Soon, other streamers and audience members took an interest in the game, leading to a significant increase in sales and first place in many Steam ratings. The rise in CCU was so substantial that the developers had to pause work on their next game and optimize the older game. This example clearly shows how strong the influence of external factors can be on Steam ratings. Pre-orders and your website allow you to build an engaged audience that will promote your game via “word-of-mouth” through different channels, including Steam. The chit-chat sparks interest from new players and can give a boost to sales on release. When is the right time to launch a pre-order campaign? The ideal timeframe to launch pre-orders is three to six months before release – the point at which customers can be confident the game will release on time. It also works as part of your marketing campaign to drive excitement and hype around your game. When you launch your own pre-orders campaign – rather than rely solely on Steam’s platform, you won’t have any rules or regulations to follow. Further, leveraging a suite of solutions – such as those provided by Xsolla –  frees you from development worries and back-end tasks. How direct sales and Steam can work together
  1. Within six months before release, create a landing page using Xsolla Site Builder to collect pre-orders and drive paid traffic to it. Doing this will allow you to gather a community of engaged players who build the initial hype for your game with reviews, streams, and recommendations. You will also better understand the kind of audience that likes to play your game, from location to demographics. Armed with that kind of valuable data, you will be able to refine the effectiveness of your advertising expenses and control your community, your sales, your ROI and your success.
  2. A few months before the release, start promoting the game through the Xsolla Partner Network to bring awareness of the game to the media and influencer space. Engage with industry press for early reviews.
  3. One month before the release, direct paid traffic from the landing page to additional channels – Steam store page, Twitch drops, press releases and more – to spark Wishlist adds and get into the “Popular Upcoming” and “New and Trending” ratings. Augmenting your efforts with strategic media activity – like press reviews and influencer streams – will help you connect with your followers and encourage them to leave feedback and recommendations on your Steam page.
  4. A few weeks before the release, give copies of your game to highly rated Steam curators to increase the game’s opportunity to get into the top of the “Suggested Curators” list.
  5. After the game is released, launch a sale both on Steam and your Site Builder landing page at the same time. Running a discount on Steam enables you to get into the Specials category, and driving paid traffic to the offer on your landing page will increase your net revenue due to lower platform fees.
It’s no secret that launching a pre-orders campaign for your game can increase your revenue potential. By combining your own site, a pre-launch campaign, and the power of Steam Wishlists, you can grow a community of devoted players, extend your reach, and significantly augment post-launch game sales. How to get started
  • Download our one-pager.
  • Carefully plan your strategy to optimize pre-launch sales, Wishlists, and post-launch refresh offers.
Partner with Xsolla. We know that planning and executing a solid revenue plan doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why teaming up with a partner like Xsolla and implementing a suite of solutions and products – like Site Builder, Pre-orders, and Promotions for Subscriptions – is valuable. We understand the unique challenges of video game monetization and can help you navigate them — so you can focus on what you do best. New to Xsolla? Get started by registering for a Publisher Account. Already an Xsolla partner? Log in to your Publisher Account or contact your Xsolla Account Manager to chat about the best Pre-orders strategy for you.
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